Outdoors Q&A - June 2001
Seabury Blair Jr.
June 29, 2001:
Q - My wife and I hiked about 4.5 up the Dosewallips Trail (2 weeks ago) to the viewpoint of Hatana Falls. Rhodos were in bloom and they were quite spectacular. Perhaps even more impressive was the proliferation of vine maple, and anticipation of an overwhelming fall color show that awaits the October hiker.
This week we're headed to Hurricane Ridge to find some alpine wild flowers. My rally cry for Saturday morning is "hike early, hike often." I'll bet sunrise in a mountain meadow of wild flowers at Hurricane is heaven on earth. I don't know that we'll make it quite THAT early though.
Thanks for your reviews over the past several weeks on the book "Cat Attacks" (nice job by The Sun to cut off your article in Sunday's paper!)
You have opened my eyes on the subject. I plan to read the book. Where can Cat Attacks be purchased?
Since my wife and I have a fairly active hiking schedule this summer, I was wondering if you felt any areas around the Olympic Peninsula may be more populated with cougar, and therefore, more likely to have a cougar encounter.
Do you believe there are any areas that a person might want to stay away from during any particular part of the season due to cougars on patrol?
I appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thanks again for your good work in print, electronic and otherwise.
- Vic Ulsh, Bremerton
A - Thanks for the trail report, Vic. I'll post it with your question about cougars on the Web site. I'm hoping we'll get a trail report page up soon, instead of posting reports with the Question-and-Answer page.
I put your question about where cougars might be found on the Olympic Peninsula - or in any wilderness area, for that matter - to the authors of "Cat Attacks" when I interviewed them for my long column about the book. It is one of those questions that might cause liability concerns because if I were to state with some authority that cougars are more likely to be found where the deer and elk are plentiful, and a cougar attacked you in the garage of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., (where a wild cougar was captured in the mid-90s) you or your heirs might have cause to sue my butt off.
That's why I mentioned that you must take the lessons in "Cat Attacks" from context. And the authors mentioned the kind of environment that might attract cougars to a given area.
They note, for example, that a cougar's preferred food is deer. Cougars on the Olympic Peninsula, especially in Olympic National Park, also feed on elk. So author Jo Deurbrouck says that she tries to think like a deer when she runs wilderness trails - watchful of the places where cougars might be waiting for a meal to run by.
In the Olympics, most of the deer and elk are found where the forage is greatest - in the verdant valleys of the Hoh, Quinault, upper Queets. If you tallied reports of cougar encounters of the past 10 years in the park, you'd find most sightings were in these areas, including that pesky cougar at Kalaloch a couple years ago.
Of course, some elk herds and to a lesser extent, deer, migrate vertically during the summer, following the spring as it climbs mountains and follows the melting snow. The cougar follow the herds, so it might not be a generalization to expect more cougar sightings in the high country in summer and perhaps fall, during the rut in the high country.
Conversely, spring and winter might see more cougar sightings in the low valleys as the big cats cruise the forests for food. Fawning season in the spring would likely be a good time to see cougars (if "good" is a term that can be applied to seeing cougars) in the river valleys where their food congregates.
Without checking the park's or National Forest's statistics, if indeed they keep statistics, I can say the reports of cougar sightings I remember support the idea that the more deer and elk you see, the more cougars you are likely to see. There was that scary case back in '92, I think, where a cougar attacked a young boy at Camp Handy, on the Dungeness River. As you know, that area is a wide valley filled with game; I've watched bear dig roots for hours in meadows around Camp Handy, deer and now elk probably winter in the area.
In 1995, I took a llama trip to Mount Olympus with a group of friends and Kit, the Llama Llady of Olalla, encountered a cougar on the Hoh Trail above the high Hoh Bridge on the way out. Hoh River hikers and visitors reported a number of cougar encounters that year and in the years following.
I also recall encounters reported on the Cape Alava trail, perhaps in 1998. I'll bet you remember the account of the two local hikers who met a cougar on the Dry Creek Trail above Lake Skokomish, around six years ago. One of the hikers got a photo of the cat when it leaped down onto the trail between them.
Besides recognizing that cougars most likely can be found where their food can be found, the book can help you become aware of the kinds of areas cougars prefer to go shopping for a meal. Cougars attack from ambush, the books tells us, often from a point above the animal it is attacking. Authors Miller and Deurbrouck say cougars will add gravity to the force of their attack.
So I'm more aware these days when I'm following a trail that cuts below a high bank, especially one with the cover - and it takes very little - that might hide a cougar. I'm more watchful when I'm rounding blind corners in the trail. And I've taken to looking behind me much more frequently, especially when hiking in areas mentioned above, because most cougar attacks come from behind. Kind of makes you want to grow eyes in the back of your head, heh?
I was a little frightened when I read all that stuff, and then I considered something the authors point out: of the thousands and thousands of people hiking the trails of Olympic National Park and Forest, only a handful have seen cougars.
That's why I'm not so concerned about cougar attacks that I'll stop visiting the wilderness that I love: the odds favor the fact that I'll never see one of these big cats, much less be attacked by one.
On the other hand, the more you can learn about the wildlife whose home we call "our wilderness," the more we can appreciate it. The lessons "Cat Attacks" offers can give anyone who loves the wild country a greater understanding of one of its most fascinating inhabitants.
Finally, you can find the book at Amazon.com, as well as most any bookstore. If you buy from Amazon, just follow the link on my site.
Again, thanks for writing. Keep those trail reports coming.